The Yarnangu people have achieved an historic Australian first, with a new native title settlement coming into effect in WA’s Gibson Desert.
On Wednesday the Federal Court sat at Mina Mina waterhole to recognise the agreement, the first of its kind in Australian history.
It followed a Federal Court determination that extinguishment of native title over the Pila Nature Reserve could be disregarded, paving the way for recognition of the Yarnangu people’s native title rights.
Central Desert Native Title Services chief executive Ian Rawlings said the agreement was “highly significant”.
“It is the first achievement of its kind of native title – a determination over a nature reserve,” he said.
“Native title was considered extinguished (on nature reserves) up until 12 to 18 months ago, when the law was change to allow groups to get back their native title.
“More importantly for the people it has been the end of a 20-year journey and struggle, a really hard struggle for people to win their native title.”
Mr Rawlings described the country covered by the Pila Nature Reserve as a “cultural powerhouse” of the desert area, with significant sites home to powerful lore.
The claim was first lodged in the mid-90s and determined in 2005, but Pila, at that time known as the Gibson Desert Nature Reserve, was cut out of the agreement.
Mr Rawlings said former Labor Premier and Aboriginal Affairs Minister Eric Ripper, who attended the ceremony at Mina Mina, worked hard to resolve the issue.
But, change of government in 2008 brought the process to a standstill, Mr Rawlings said.
“The Barnett Government wanted to run a compensation claim through the court, which was a difficult process culturally and politically for people, who reluctantly took it on because they believe there were no other options,” he said.
“They were undermined by the state uncovering some old, 1920s I think, petroleum licenses.
“It was withdrawn, and people were very disappointed and very angry at the state.”
Mr Rawlings said Traditional Owners then spent years in talks with the then-state opposition, who returned to office under Mark McGowan in 2017.
“(Former Aboriginal Affairs) Minister Ben Wyatt and the then-Environment Minister Stephen Dawson came out to resolve the issue,” he said.
The new agreement covers about 19,000 square kilometres of land 1,800km northeast of Perth.
The name Lurrtjurrlulu Palakitjalu – “will do it together” – reflects the intention of the state government and Traditional Owners to jointly manage the land.
The Pila Nature Reserve will be jointly vested and managed by the Warnpurru Aboriginal Corporation and State Government.
Some $7.5 million has been set aside over 10 years to support joint management of the reserve, providing work and training opportunities for Traditional Owners at Patjarr, Warburton and surrounding communities.
The package will also provide funding to improve infrastructure at Patjarr community to support joint management.
WA Aboriginal Affairs Minister Tony Buti said the outcome was one in which all Western Australians should take pride.
“The recognition of native title represents a major achievement, particularly for the Traditional Owners of the Country covered by the Reserve, the Yarnangu people, who have worked for this outcome over a very long period,” he said.
“Through the new name of Pila Nature Reserve, we properly reflect the area’s traditional language and honour its cultural significance.”
Environment Minister Reece Whitby said he looked forward to seeing the Warnpurru Aboriginal Corporation and the WA Government working together.